Q&A with Force Indias Vijay Mallya 02 May 2008
Force India scored their first top-10 finish in Barcelona last weekend when Giancarlo Fisichella came home 10th, having run as high as eighth at one stage in the race. However, it was a disappointing day for his team mate Adrian Sutil, who made a great start and passed several cars before getting involved in a first-lap accident. Team owner Vijay Mallya reveals his thoughts on the Spanish Grand Prix and Force Indias 2008 progress to date
Q: How pleased were you to see Giancarlo running as high as eighth at Barcelona?
Vijay Mallya: I was not expecting an eighth-place finish when I saw the car in eighth, but I am very pleased that we made the top 10 at the end of the race. We're getting better and better in every race. It was a shame that Adrian could not have a full race, as both cars started off very well. But these things happen in racing, if you start further down the grid, you have to take some risks; sometimes they work out very well and sometimes they don't. This is racing.
Q: How important was it to get a decent finish like that?
VM: Nothing is better than a top 10 result. We've been in this game for five months, and being in the top 10 is a great feeling. It's a feeling that makes us believe in ourselves, and the fact that we're making progress. We shouldn't underestimate this achievement - this team was getting better all the time last year, however regular top-12 finishes were something of a rarity. I hope this year we can make it a permanent trend.
Q: Are you a little frustrated by qualifying and always just missing Q2?
VM: I was disappointed with qualifying after such a strong practice on Friday and Saturday morning. Clearly what I'm noticing is that we're not able to get good qualifying pace out of the car, and we need to investigate that thoroughly. But our race pace has always been decent. People have commented on it, and we showed it again in Spain. We are looking into why we cannot reproduce the lap times in qualifying now and I'm confident we will get to the bottom of it. We have to - if we can start higher up, the chances are we will finish higher up.
Q: Once again Giancarlo was able to keep quicker cars behind him. Was that very satisfying?
VM: Absolutely. In the last race he kept Lewis Hamilton behind him, and this time he kept Nick Heidfeld in a BMW behind him for almost eight laps. It was great to see, and it was great brand exposure for us too!
Q: Are we really seeing his experience pay off?
VM: I cannot underestimate in any way the benefits that Giancarlo has brought to the team. That's exactly what we were lacking, that's exactly what we've got now, and it's absolutely brilliant.
Q: Adrian hasn't had much luck with four retirements so far...
VM: No, Adrian hasn't had too much luck. It's unfortunate, but I am sure that his luck will turn, as luck does. He's got a lot of talent, he's quick, and I think he can do a good job for us. What we have to remember is that Giancarlo is approaching his 200th Grand Prix, Adrian has competed in just over 20, that's a tenth of the number of his team mate. We cannot reasonably expect him to know everything Giancarlo does, but the benefit of having Giancarlo there is that Adrian can learn and, in turn, grow and develop into a very valuable asset in the future.
Q: Other teams brought their big update packages to Spain, and you didn't drop back from the midfield pack. Was that encouraging?
VM: We haven't dropped back, but we do need to sort out our qualifying pace, which is our Achilles heel at the moment. If we start a few places up the grid we won't get into traffic or be a little accident prone like we are when starting from the back. This is just the start for us though; nobody expected us to be as competitive as we are. We've been on the grid for little over five months and look how far we have come. We are deploying all resources to improve now. No one expects miracles, but the fact we have qualified in the top 17, the fact we finished in the top 12 in Bahrain and Malaysia and now in the top 10 in Spain shows we are a genuine midfield contender now, not a backmarker. Of course the field is incredibly tight though, with at least 10 cars within a couple of tenths of each other. It's a bitter contest now where everything counts, but I am delighted to see we are in that game.
Q: And how has the reaction at home in India been?
VM: Absolutely phenomenal so far. TV ratings are up, press coverage is up and F1 has never been more popular. We have 15 - 16,000 members of the Club Force site we established for fans to network with each other and it's all happened very quickly. F1 in India 10 years ago was too expensive, too glamorous, too competitive and too high tech. Indians thought they could never reach it or touch it, but as the middle class grew and disposable incomes increased by the day, the time was ripe to enter the sport. It was the right decision and we are looking to grow the fan base even more.
Q: Are you actively looking for an Indian driver, or Indian personnel to bolster the team?
VM: I respect each and every individual regardless of nationality or class, and in my team I want the best people available. I have no doubt that in a population of 1.2 billion people we will find a Lewis Hamilton somewhere, but this will take time and experience. That's why we have Giancarlo Fisichella at the moment, but we are willing to invest in finding Indian talent and nurture him or her to the highest levels.
Q: You are obviously a very busy man with your other businesses and ventures. How are you finding time to juggle everything?
VM: I am the leader of the team and I need to lead it from the front. The fact that the team knows I am busy, but I am still there shows I am dedicated to this particular project, I do not just want to use it as a toy or a hobby. When we are more established, perhaps I won't have to spend so much time with the team, but for now I want to be involved. I believe in creating an atmosphere where people are given responsibility and can thrive. When they have shown they are capable of leading themselves, this is time for me to step back and let them move forward. I will always run the show, but people have to be accountable.
Q: And how are plans shaping up for the Indian Grand Prix?
VM: The Indian Grand Prix has been approved for 2010 and plans are underway. Hermann Tilke will design the track and we are confident it will be ready for the scheduled date. It is in our interests to ensure it goes well, it will be an awesome achievement to have an Indian team on the grid for the Indian Grand Prix. Moreover we want to be on the podium, this has to be the ultimate goal.